tv Caught on Camera MSNBC September 1, 2012 4:00pm-5:00pm PDT
i'm contessa brewer. that's all for this edition of "caught on camera. raging fires. deadly flames. a massive explosion rips through a california community. >> oh, my god! ah! >> highways become infernos. >> this is one of the most dangerous areas of interstate 40. >> firefighters face death in the line of duty. >> the closest i ever want to come to near death experience. >> go, go! >> and a day of celebration descends into chaos. >> at one point the fireworks were going 40, 50 feet up in the
air. >> it's not my time to go, that's all i can think of. caught on camera: up in flames." hello, i'm contessa brewer. welcome to "caught on camera." each year fire kills more americans than all natural disasters combined, and yet we may not think about the things that surround us as potential threats. gas lines, tanker trucks and even the electrical wiring in your car. when you least expect it, a fire can happen. and when it happens on a large scale, whole neighborhoods can go up in flames. a massive explosion turns a california town into hell on earth. >> what the -- is that? >> what the -- is that?
>> september 9th, 2010. it's just another quiet summer evening in the san francisco suburb of san bruno. but then at 6:11 p.m., disaster strikes. this gas station surveillance camera records the edge of a massive explosion a quarter mile away that rips through the neighborhood. startled drivers abandon the pumps and begin to drive away. a woman flees, clinging to her baby. residents grab their cameras and begin filming seconds after the blast. >> holy -- holy -- holy --! what the -- is that? holy --! >> their videos capture the unthinkable. a terrifying 100-foot tower of
flame right in their own backyard. >> oh, my god. >> bill hudder hears the blast from inside his apartment and along with his neighbors steps out into the street to investigate. >> i pulled out my camera. this fireball just kept coming and coming. it didn't seem like there was any end to it. >> everybody get back! >> and i was just standing there in amazement. looked like something out of a movie when i first saw it. >> charlie barringer and ron lavezzo are among the first firefighters to arrive. they have nearly 50 years of experience between them. but this fire is unlike anything they've ever seen. >> i was kind of astounded by the range of the fire, the number of houses that were actually on fire and free burning. the fire was unstoppable at one point because it was leaping from house to house to house. >> it was basically a 360-degree
fire with a main fireball in the middle. so at this point we have people self-evacuating the neighborhood. i'm getting snapshots of pretty much every individual running. and 25 years in the fire service i've never seen terror on people's faces like that. >> firefighters can't get near the flames due to the intense heat which radiates at temperatures near 1200 degrees. >> i got out of the engine, and i looked down to a car parked next to my engine and the lens caps of the headlights and the paint was melting off the car. so there was nothing you could do at that point. you couldn't even get within a block of that area. >> at one point, the engine company said that they saw the asphalt -- it was so hot, the intensity was so hot that it had lit the oil in the asphalt on fire and the streets were actually burning.
>> firefighters have not confirmed the cause of the explosion but don't have to look too far for the most likely explanation. the city of san bruno lies adjacent to san francisco international airport. and all eyes begin looking up for answers. >> my immediate thought was that it was a plane crash and that was the initial report. people were wondering, the only thing they thought could have caused an explosion and a fire of that magnitude would have been a jetliner crashing into a neighborhood. >> i was somewhat convinced this was a plane because i've never seen that much fire in my entire career in a condensed neighborhood like this. >> but no planes are reported missing from any of the bay area airports. firefighters realize this explosion didn't come from the sky above but the ground below. >> it looked as if this was not a jet fuel plane, this was a clean burning source. and about ten minutes into this, they said there's no reports of
any bodies, any debris, anything related to a plane crash. so this must not be a plane crash. this has got to be some sort of a gas source. >> it is. an underground 30-inch wide transmission pipeline cracks and the gas ignites, turning san bruno into an inferno. >> and remember that transmission line was blowing out at 350 psi. so it shot a blowtorch almost horizontally into a neighborhood of houses that, until we shut that gas off, we couldn't stop that blowtorch. >> 6:25 p.m., just minutes into the explosion, and the fire continues to spread out of control. captain charlie barringer formulates a plan of attack. but he comes up with bad news. >> at that point my tail man
went up to the hydrant. and he says, cap, i got no water. now it dawned on me that this explosion or this event blew out all the water mains in that area. that whole grid pretty much is out. >> airplanes and helicopters must now hold the line. they release water and flame retardants to stop the fire in its tracks. >> the helicopter started dropping in our neighborhood. and due to the time of day being we still had daylight, we still had a couple hours of daylight left, we were able to get air support. and that was just a tremendous amount of help initially until we got our hose lines and our supply lines hooked up to our engines to stop the fire. >> as i turned and looked over my shoulder, here was the cavalry coming to help out. >> the air support now allows firefighters to change their plan of attack. >> our concern wasn't so much the initial ground zero area where the source of the fire was coming from. at this point it's just stopping the progression of the fire. so that was our tactic and strategy at this point.
>> 7:30 p.m., more than an hour after the explosion, the surge of natural gas continues to feed the fire. crews battle the blaze from both ground and air but are about to face a new problem. darkness. >> after it got dark, it gets a lot harder to fight the fires because you're not seeing where the smoke is. >> so the firefighters were up against an enormous challenge dealing with the conditions, the light going away, diminishing, and not being able to get close enough to search for people who might have survived. >> 7:45 p.m. an hour and a half after the devastating explosion, the gas line feeding the fireball is shut off. by midnight, all that remains is a neighborhood in ruins. >> we weren't worried about it spreading. we were worried about things that we could save that were left. and there wasn't -- there wasn't a lot. you know, there was a lot of
areas that there was nothing but flat land and a chimney or the front steps. it became kind of a moonscape after a while. >> as i finally went back home, of course all the power's out. so it's very dark. it's kind of eerie and quiet. all you see is just the glowing embers from the fire. so it sort of lit the sky up a little bit orange. it was a little eerie through the night. of course, i don't think a lot of people slept that night. >> the explosion and fire ultimately take eight lives and destroy 38 homes. yet many believe an even greater tragedy was averted. >> what amazed me in seeing the fireball at the time and that huge explosion, you thought there would be so many more people who would have died. i think the only saving grace there was that people were still on their way home and they weren't in bed at the time that the explosion happened. >> but credit is also due to a dedicated group of firefighters who faced the danger head on. >> you just do what you're trained to do and what your
experience tells you to do, and, you know, i can proudly say that the first initial engine companies made a stance. we made a decision to stop this fire and not to let it go any further. and guys really put themselves in harm's way. and held their ground and stopped it. >> that's our job, to make everything whole again. and that's what we're trying to do. coming up -- a fireworks stand erupts on the fourth of july. >> i see crazy things every day. but that's something i've never seen in my life. 18-wheelers out of control. >> fire and rescue personnel are on the scene. no traffic is moving on the interchange. >> an airplane explosion sends passengers screaming to the exits. and more firefighters who put it all on the line. e dark roast forest fresh full tank brain freeze cake donettes
a routine car fire exposes the steady nerves of an l.a. fireman. >> they were getting so close to the car. it was something dangerous for sure. >> august 19th, 2011. a parked car bursts into flames on a los angeles street, and firefighters quickly respond to the call. john hears the commotion outside his apartment and films the action on the street below. >> i went out to balcony to see what happened. i was shooting it to show how firefighters were extinguishing the fire. i thought it might be some interesting memory for me. >> thick black smoke and flames pour out of the car as a firefighter grabs a hose and approaches the burning vehicle. he begins to douse the flames and get the fire under control. but what appears to be a routine job takes a sudden and potentially deadly turn.
the front of the car explodes mere inches away from the fireman's head. but with nerves of steel, the firefighter doesn't even flinch and continues to put out the fire. >> that was so shocking for me. i mean, many people would be like, just drop the hose and run away. >> department officials credit the fireman's protective breathing apparatus as the main reason why this event didn't become a tragedy. the firefighter continues, as if nothing ever happened. and in less than a minute gets the fire under control. it's believed the blaze started as an electrical fire with magnesium in the metal steering column possibly responsible for the sudden blast. but one thing is for certain,
john will never forget the firefighter who didn't flinch. >> i mean, to see a car on fire, maybe you can see that, but to see a firefighter in an explosion right next to him and doing nothing, i would never expect to see such a thing, you know? and imagine the dangers that they're just going through, you know? i really appreciate their courage and bravery. a team of firefighters faces one of its greatest fears, a flashover. >> go, go, go, go! >> that's the closest i ever want to come to near death experience. >> october 3rd, 2011. a blaze breaks out at a bistro in franklin, ohio. firefighter quincy pearson heads into the smoke-filled restaurant to fight what appears to be a kitchen fire.
>> initially when we got inside, the smoke was very light at the moment. but i could see through it. i could see a glow coming from the area of the kitchen and also the area of the bar. >> but conditions take a turn for the worse as firefighters move farther into the restaurant. the smoke changes color and becomes dark and heavy as it falls toward the floor. the temperature around the firefighters rapidly increases. pearson's expertise kicks into high gear. he realizes the firefighters are in imminent danger. >> the smoke has started to catch on fire. that's when everything is starting to go bad real quick. it's starting to get really hot in the room. i'm just watching these signs before me unhofold, and i'm starting to recognize that we're going to be caught in a flashover. >> flashovers are triggered when extreme heat causes all exposed flammable material to ignite at the same time. pearson says flashovers are a firefighter's worst nightmare
and almost always a calling card for certain death. >> it's something very dangerous to the fire service. it deals with temperatures between 1,000 and 1,500 degrees. everything in that room, people, furniture, doesn't matter, is going to light. it's going to be on fire at once. >> pearson orders the firefighters to evacuate the building immediately. one makes it outside, but seconds later -- >> go, go, go! >> go, go, go, go! >> oh, my god. >> tense moments pass. no one knows if anyone still inside is alive. but then pearson and another firefighter crawl out the front door grateful they've survived. >> then i finally realized i was at a curb and i was out of the building and i've never been more relieved in my life. because i recognized the dangers of what we were just in. >> miraculously, no one is killed in the blast. the fire later ruled an arson consumes the entire restaurant
and turns the 100-year-old building into ashes. the remains are a stark remainder of just how close the firefighters came to a tragic end. >> and then to see that room we were just in light up the way it did was just -- i can't even describe. >> go, go, go, go, go! in coming up -- a collapsing bridge transforms into a colossal fireball. >> the largest flames i've probably ever seen in my life. it was just mind-boggling. >> disaster at a fireworks factory sends hundreds of people running for their lives. and a race car driver faces flames head-on. >> i was just thinking i'm probably going to die in this race car. well, i had all the classic symptoms...
like the elephant on my chest... he thought he was having a heart attack. she said, "take an aspirin, we need to go to the hospital." i'm on a bayer aspirin regimen. [ male announcer ] be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin an aspirin regimen. i'm very grateful to be alive. aspirin really made a difference. t there. i'm very grateful to be alive. - one serving of cheese is the size of four dice. one serving of cereal, a baseball. and one serving of fruit, a tennis ball. - you know, both parties agree. our kids can be healthier... the more you know. two trucks collide and a fireball erupts deep in the heart of texas. >> i was thinking, oh, hell, it's on fire. you're not going to get out. >> every day trucks, tankers and other commercial vehicles crisscross the nation's highways.
they are an important part of our economy transporting goods and material around the clock. but if something goes wrong, these big rigs can turn into big disasters. april 8, 2010. a traffic cam captures randy pierce and his 18-wheeler full of frozen chicken entering a busy highway in lewisville, texas. he's just about to merge when suddenly a dump truck cuts into his lane. >> i thought, well, he's going to see me in a minute. so i started moving to the right. well, he never did see me because he kept coming across. >> the two trucks crash into each other. and the dump truck explodes.
randy loses control of his rig and heads straight for the highway's concrete divider. >> and it shoved my steering tire back into my frame. so that took me back across to the left across the highway. >> the 18-wheeler cuts across four lanes of traffic and breaks through the dividing wall, narrowly avoiding a 40-foot drop to the ground below. randy is left with seconds to make a decision as his cab bursts into flames. >> that's when i thought, well, i got to get out of here. to the left, my driver's door was on fire. right door, i didn't see any fire, so i just kicked the door open and jumped. >> nearly engulfed by fire, randy escapes just in time and watches in horror as his truck burns. the fire consumes his entire rig and the cab later slips through the concrete barrier dangling over the edge.
but incredibly, neither randy nor the dump truck driver suffer any injuries in the crash. it's only after it's all over that randy realizes how close he came to losing his life. >> when i saw the video, it kind of brought things back into perspective. and realized how lucky i was. in all actuality i should have gone over that bridge or burned up in the truck. >> the weight of 40,000 pounds of frozen chicken is most likely what stopped the truck from going over the edge. randy pierce survives his brush with death, but not every driver is quite so lucky. a tanker truck explosion brings a bridge of concrete and steel crashing to the ground. >> this looks like a terrible collapse of this roadway. as you can see, the fire is still burning. >> july 24th, 1998.
it's friday afternoon and interstate 40 is jammed with travelers racing to get an early start on the summer weekend. but many drivers don't realize these snake-like curves near connolly springs, north carolina, can be difficult to navigate. even deadly. fire and rescue crews race to the scene of a tanker truck that has spun out of control and slammed into a bridge. as they get closer and closer, a thick billowing cloud of black smoke looms ominously on the horizon. >> we've had a lot of wrecks, single vehicle and multicar crashes including tractor-trailers and small passenger vehicles. this is one of the most dangerous areas of interstate 40 in north carolina. >> traffic comes to a standstill. some motorists even resort to driving the wrong way in the emergency lane in order to exit the freeway from an on ramp. when firefighters and first
responders arrive, they're face-to-face with a 50-foot-high fireball that has engulfed the bridge. >> basically the whole underside of interstate 40, the bridge and things was covered up with flames. in my 30-year career i've had now, i've never seen anything of that magnitude of flames. >> large flames could be seen from miles away. probably initially flame length 68 feet around the bridge. and a large area around the bridge. extreme heat. totally unsafe area. and volatile. >> some kind of chemical is burning down there, and you can smell it up here in the helicopter. fire and rescue personnel are on the scene. no traffic is moving on the interchange. we have no information at this time about injuries or fatalities. >> 8,800 gallons of burning gasoline are pounding into the
underside of the bridge. firefighters make the decision to wait this one out. >> we knew at that point that there was nothing that we could salvage. there was no way to do any type of rescue and things. so basically it was just let the fire burn out and contain it to that area of the wreckage. >> but it's not that simple. the bridge is supported by a steel structure encased in reinforcing layers of concrete. and as the fire radiates intense heat, the concrete begins to break down and melt. >> it was splattering kind of like a grease fire. actually concrete breaking loose and liquefying at a boiling point which is also dangerous in that area. >> then you just had the steel beams exposed. the unexposed steel beams on the bottom side of the bridge were actually taking the majority, taking the brunt of the heat. >> and firefighters are aware that the steel beams holding up the bridge can't take this kind
of punishment for long. >> knowing that gasoline burns at about 1,870 degrees, and the steel support would resist up to 1,000 degrees we did expect it to collapse at some point in time. >> but the question remains, what exactly will happen when the bridge comes down? >> the gasoline tanker to me was very unstable because we didn't know how it was going to react. >> firefighters continue to pour water on the inferno in a vain attempt to get the flames under control. but after 40 minutes of relentless heat, the bridge can't support itself any longer. the steel beams come crashing down on the burning tanker and the remaining gasoline underneath. within seconds a fireball sends flames hundreds of feet into the air. >> well, it was unbelievable to see the bridge collapse. probably the largest flames i've ever seen in my life. it was just mind-boggling for my
career to be in that kind of situation. >> the sheriff's department is recommending a detour on to highway 70 as an alternate route. >> a few minutes after the collapse, the remaining gasoline burns off and the flames begin to diminish. once the blaze is under control, firefighters can assess the damage in terms of material and lives. >> there was only one fatality which was the driver of the gas tanker that lost his life. i thought there would be worse. that time of day on the interstate, 12:30 in the afternoon on a friday, july, vacation to the mountains, i figured there would be three or four cars underneath it. >> the interstate remains closed for nearly four days as cleanup crews deal with the rubble and runoff gasoline. ultimately, the bridge is rebuilt. and summer traffic resumes. as does the danger found in the twists and turns of this infamous four-mile stretch of highway.
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i'm milissa rehberger. here's what's happening. mandatory evacuations are under way for parts of st. tammany parish north of new orleans. officials there say the failure of a river lock is imminent that will cause major flooding. about 1,200 homes in the area of under evacuation. a pilot is dead after his plane crashed at an air show in eastern iowa. witnesses say three jets were flying in formation when one veered off and went down. no one on the ground was hurt. now, back to "caught on camera."
welcome back to "caught on camera." i'm contessa brewer. for many the fourth of july is a day of fun in the sun and backyard barbecues capped off by colorful fireworks in the night sky but behind that dazzling display lay powerful and dangerous explosive. and when fireworks go wrong, the results can be terrifying. july 4th, 207, port richey, florida. a roadside fireworks stand erupts in flames when one of the explosives is set off inside the tent. cameraman brian farrow captures the mayhem as it unfolds. >> the scene was pretty much chaos at first. the sheriff's office was trying to stop the traffic because the fireworks were shooting across the roadway and they didn't want anybody else to get hit. i got concerned for my safety. so i went and i parked a little bit further away from where the
explosions were going off. and it looked just like a fireworks display you see at a mall. >> andrea berkman is shopping for sparklers with her 5-year-old son when she notices a man who appears to be drunk holding a beer bottle in the back of the tent. suddenly she hears the crackle and hiss of a lit fuse. >> we had heard some of the -- [ hiss ] and then kaboom! had it gone through the roof, it would have been wonderful, but it didn't go through the roof. it bounced back down off the top of the roof and it was a domino effect from there. >> the lit firework sets off a chain reaction. in an instant, a rainbow of explosions fills the tent and the night sky. andrea berkman and her son are caught in the crossfire. >> and you know, my son, he
turns around to see where mommy is. and i looked at him. he goes, mama, mama. i said run! run as fast as you can! >> andrea and her son escape before the tent lights up, but the unintended fireworks display is just beginning. >> at one point the fireworks were going 40, 50 feet up in the air. then as the explosion started to get bigger, it started to rip the tent apart. >> firefighters arrive and use water cannons to put out the blaze, extinguishing the last batch of exploding fireworks. after 20 minutes, all that's left of the galaxy fireworks stand is a mangled frame. >> i went back to the scene, and when i arrived, there was some smoke lingering and there was
fire cartridges still on the tables like everything was for sale, that had gone off and it was just all burnt cartridges sitting there. >> it turned out that the man who appeared drunk was responsible for the blaze. tony glen rogers is convicted of first-degree arson and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. $70,000 worth of fireworks go up in smoke. >> the job that i have as a freelance photographer, i see crazy things every day. but that's something i've never seen in my life. >> andrea berkman suffers only minor injuries, but stray fireworks burn parts of the head and feet of her son. the galaxy fireworks stand is a case study in small fireworks going out of control. but what happens when the
fireworks are much bigger? it's a disaster of epic proportions. and one the town in denmark faces when explosions rock a fireworks factory in the heart of the city. november 3rd, 2004. it starts in the afternoon when a box of rockets is accidentally dropped and ignites. the explosions spread to nearby containers and a chain reaction of destruction begins. the afternoon turns to darkness as firefighters attempt to get the situation under control. but it appears there's no end to the pyrotechnics and flames that light up the sky. initial reports indicate the factory may contain 2,000 tons of fireworks.
the situation becomes more dire because the factory is surrounded by residential neighborhoods. distressed residents are ordered to flee their homes and businesses. almost 2,000 people are removed from a half-mile area around the plant as the eruptions continue only hundreds of feet away. the explosions start to grow more intense as larger caches of fireworks ignite. then suddenly a massive boom sends a billowing cloud of smoke and flames hundreds of feet into the air. the shock wave is so violent that it knocks back this cameraman. and so powerful that it registers as a magnitude two earthquake.
the accident is one of the biggest disasters in modern danish history. one firefighter is killed and 350 homes and businesses are destroyed. some estimates put the total damage at more than $130 million. coming up -- fire blackens the skies of a small texas town. >> the first thing that pops in my mind is somebody's house is on fire. then you realize, that's not a house. that's something a lot bigger. l all-beef hot dog world. what was i supposed to wish for? why am i wearing a bow-tie?
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a chemical fire turns day into night. and sends a community searching for cover. >> quite frankly, it looked like we had hell on earth down there. >> october 4th, 2011. a fire breaks out 30 miles south of dallas at the magnablend chemical plant in waxahachie, texas. the blaze ignites thousands of gallons of liquid chemicals and within minutes transforms acres of buildings into a sea of flames. >> once it got to the products, typically the mineral oil and the hydrocarbon based products petroleum-based products, that's going to light off and continue until there's no more fire load. >> fireballs explode while a thick black blanket of smoke spews hundreds of feet in the air. the morning sky grows so dark local resident chris dillinger believes a storm is brewing on
the horizon. >> at first i thought, man, is that, like, a rain cloud? i thought the skies were clear. i take a second look. and i realize, no, that's not a rain cloud at all. it's absolutely huge. that's crazy. this is insane. absolutely enormous clouds. the first thing that pops in usual mind is, you know, somebody's house is on fire. then you realize, oh, that's not a house. that's something a lot bigger. >> oh. >> look at that, dude. >> it doesn't even look real. >> no, it don't look real. >> like we're sitting here looking at some crazy -- >> local firefighters attempt to get the blaze under control, but their numbers are no match for an inferno of this magnitude. >> they do not have a full-time haz-mat team like we have here in dallas. so when we received the mutual aid call, we headed toward what looked like little hiroshima cloud that was in the south
here. when we arrived, the flames were literally visible -- of course, texas is flat here. we don't have the mountains and trees that some of the prettier areas of the world have. but we had a thermal column that was a good 2, 250 into the air. the smoke was a jet black sometimes gray, which indicates some type of hydrocarbon or petroleum products. >> the danger grows exponentially as the fire spreads outside the main compound. rivers of burning liquid chemicals consume everything in their paths. the flames come within feet of railroad cars filled with explosive fuel and more chemicals. if they explode, the dire situation could get even worse. but the flames aren't the only thing the firefighters are worried about. no one knows if the massive
plumes of smoke are releasing deadly toxins into the community. and it's the job of ted padgett and the dallas hazardous materials team to determine the threat. >> our first interest when we arrived was to determine what we could based on ground level runoff and even the airborne particulates. we had three or four tests that we did initially. we checked the smoke. our testing on site indicated we had ammonium products, we had ketones, aldehydes. what you would typically see in any large industrial batching plant. >> while the team checks for toxins, local officials decide they can't afford to take any chances. hundreds of students from a school only a quarter mile away are taken by bus to safe locations. some residents are also ordered to leave, but chris dillinger must make the decision on his own. >> i didn't think about, you know, poisonous gases or anything until we came back and
then turned on the tv because, you know, we didn't know it was an industrial fire. once we knew what it was, we started thinking maybe we should leave. eventually we didn't leave because we knew the smoke was blowing away from us. it did make me a little bit nervous. >> after enduring six hours of punishing heat and flames, firefighters almost completely contain the blaze. and the hazmat team releases its results. the air quality is not a threat to the community. >> our personnel were there for approximately five, almost six hours before we cleared. we determined there was nothing above the threshold limit value. there were nuisance odor but nothing above what would be considered a hazard. >> all the employee escape without any injuries, but the magnablend plant is in ruins. the devastation so complete, the story is covered on the national news. >> in texas, a huge chemical fire is still burning tonight
about 30 miles south of dallas. >> a massive ground cleanup begins immediately after the accident. workers rush to contain contaminated water and other chemicals to prevent them from running off into sewers. >> so we turned it over to the out their soil remediation equipment. they actually will be there for a good while trying to make this back to an inert, safe area and once again to conduct operations. >> weeks after the fire, the town returns to it daily routine. but this horrific industrial accident won't be easily forgotten. >> now, it's just a bunch of charred remains. and it smells quite bad. i think it's going to take quite a while for them to clean this up. and it's just an absolute disaster there. i feel a bit bad for the people that lived closer than we do because, it reeks.
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a russian plane explodes minutes before takeoff. january 1st, 2011, siberia. an airplane is taxiing for takeoff when suddenly its engine ignites on the runway. fire and thick black smoke fill the back of the cabin and quickly envelope the fuselage. panic ensues as passengers open the aircraft door to escape but within seconds the interior of the plane is on fire. passengers on the ground cry out to others escaping on the emergency slides.
many don't know whether their loved ones are still inside. firefighters pour water on the burning airplane but fail to get the blaze under control. the plane continue to burn for ten minutes until a massive explosion erupts in the midsection and the plane is left to burn itself out. russian officials believe an engine malfunction is the cause of the fire. three people are killed, but the death toll could have been much higher had this tragedy occurred after the airplane had left the ground. a terrible explosion could mean the end of a career for a young race car driver. july 30th, 2009. it's saturday, and in iowa that means sprint car racing at knoxville raceway. they may look like toys, but
don't be fooled. the average sprint car can reach speeds of up to 140 miles per hour. it's a family tradition that mike houseman has carried on for more than eight years. >> sprint cars are probably the most powerful dirt car there is. my dad raced for like 25 years. mainly here in knoxville. my brother races now. my cousin raced, my grandpa raced. so it's a big kind of family deal with us. >> but on this night, the family dynasty almost comes to a tragic end. >> i remember the start of the race, starting up front, i remember running a few laps under green, then battling with another car side by side. he kept getting closer and closer to me. >> the two drivers jockey back and forth for the lead until mike suddenly realizes something is wrong. >> one lap i didn't see him. i just felt a hard impact. the next thing i knew i was in the air. >> trouble!
>> while i was in the air, i could feel my tank had ruptured. i started feeling the fuel dump on me. >> mike's sprint car lands right side up and immediately bursts into flames, but he's trapped in his seat, soaking in gasoline as the fire quickly surrounds him. >> i started breathing in pretty heavy amounts of fire. after a while my belts melted so i couldn't get them off. so i'm just thinking i'm probably going to die in this race car. >> raceway firefighters austin kingry and shane spaulding witness the crash directly in front of them. but they must watch helplessly as the flames envelope the car. >> we had to pause there and wait for the rest of the field to go by. it seemed like forever that we had to stand there. >> watching this wreck made your heart drop into your chest because you know that both those drivers were in danger. >> you could see the car shaking and hear mike screaming in the car. so i knew if we didn't react with enough time and get there
fast enough, that it was going to turn into a fatality. >> the track clears as shane and austin race across to reach mike. but no one is sure if he's still alive. >> i was behind austin when we were running up to the car. i saw him start spraying his extinguisher first, so then i started spraying. and when he got about two or three foot from the car, he dropped his extinguisher to go in and try to help mike, because mike obviously hadn't gotten out yet. >> i initially sprayed my extinguisher to knock down the flame so i could get myself in there. as my partner ran around to the back side to push fire away from me. and reached in. he still had his chest belts on. i had to undo his chest belts. we had to get rid of the steering wheel. >> next thing i know some guy's reaching in and grabbing me and dragging me out. i remember my throat just hurting really bad like i had drank a bunch of lighter fluid or something. my throat was just on fire. >> mike is taken to the hospital
with first and second-degree burns on his face and legs. but the scars aren't just physical. mike replays the video of the accident in an attempt to understand what went wrong. >> i just kept re-watching it and re-watching it and re-watching it, just to try to break down what happened and what i could have done different. i mean, you're always going to second guess yourself when something like this happens. >> mike makes a full recovery and despite his brush with death, is back in the driver's seat only one month after the crash. his return to racing also includes a special thanks to the firefighter who put themselves on the line to save his life. >> then i just told them that, you know, my daughter still has a father because of them and i wanted them to know that. >> there will always be dangers when it come to fire and explosions, but not every incident ends in tragedy. especially when we have firefighters willing to face the flames head-on. i'm contessa brewer.